Book Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob (4/5)

21 May

I can’t remember how exactly I heard about this one. I think it was in a ‘new releases’ pamphlet a few years ago. Anyway, I wanted to add it to my TBR and it took me almost five years, but I finally got around to it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

Summary from Goodreads:

When brain surgeon Thomas Eapen decides to cut short a visit to his mother’s home in India in 1979, he sets into motion a series of events that will forever haunt him and his wife, Kamala; their intellectually precocious son, Akhil; and their watchful daughter, Amina. Now, twenty years later, in the heat of a New Mexican summer, Thomas has begun having bizarre conversations with his dead relatives and it’s up to Amina-a photographer in the midst of her own career crisis-to figure out what is really going on. But getting to the truth is far harder than it seems. From Thomas’s unwillingness to talk, to Kamala’s Born Again convictions, to run-ins with a hospital staff that seems to know much more than they let on, Amina finds herself at the center of a mystery so thick with disasters that to make any headway at all, she has to unravel the family’s painful past.

I liked the back-and-forth style Jacob used to move through time. We see Amina as a girl growing up with Akhil and then we see her as an adult visiting her parents. Both stories lead us to find out how Akhil died (this isn’t really a spoiler, it’s pretty clear from early in the book). The theme of sleepwalking, or sleeping in general, is pretty prominent. Her uncle (whose name completely escapes me) is a sleepwalker and his sleepwalking ends up causing a major and deadly accident. Akhil suffers from a sleeping disorder, and her father ends up developing one. But ultimately, the sleepwalking motif is also a theme about enjoying the time you have. For a lot of Amina’s life, she’s gone through the motions without enjoying or really taking in what is happening around her. She’s sleepwalking through life when she could be dancing through it and enjoying it to the fullest.

I adored Amina’s parents. Thomas and Kamala reminded me a bit of my parents and of my friends’ parents as well. Their speech patterns were great, like how Thomas repeated someone’s name three times when greeting them. The way they cared about their kids was very real to me. Kamala was fierce when it came to Amina and Akhil and I adored her love for them. I also liked how they’d changed when they became empty-nesters. They were more relaxed with their kids and able to enjoy being a couple again. I see that in my parents and my in-laws and I’m glad Jacob was able to capture it.

Kamala was my favorite character. She was well drawn and she had a great attitude about life. Her religious convictions were fun to read about and the way she spoke to and cared about her kids was very loving. She called them dummies all the time, but you knew she was the most kind-hearted character in the story. The way she treated Thomas through his illness was heartbreakingly beautiful. She was a woman who was kind and loving on the outside but could yell and push to get what she needed for her family. I loved the way she was drawn.

Because I’m a similar age to Amina, she was easy to relate to. I liked that we got a character around 30 who isn’t settled and happy in her career. I feel that, all too often, characters in books are wildly successful by age 30 and that seems so unrealistic. She felt more real to me because of this and I was glad to have a character I could relate to.

Mira Jacob
Image via India Today

The flashbacks to Akhil in high school were my favorite parts of the book. Seeing a boy becoming a man so quickly and seeing it through his sister’s eyes was a great way to develop his character. I enjoyed hearing about his political dealings because it felt reminiscent of high school for me; when we were 17 and out to change the world. He was full of optimism and hope. Amina watching him change was paralleled with herself at 30, who has not yet come into herself in the same way and needs a kick in the pants to be comfortable with herself.

Dimple was my least favorite character and the parts of the book with her in it disappointed me. She felt very flat to me and I didn’t think she added much to the book. She seemed like a terrible friend if I’m being honest. She pushed Amina into doing a lot of things she didn’t want to do and wasn’t very supportive when big things were happening in Amina’s life. She also kept secrets and seemed to demand a lot of attention when they were together.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jacob. At first, I was nervous because some authors are not meant to be narrators. But Jacob really impressed me. She did great accents for her Indian characters and gave each a distinct voice and inflection so they were easy to tell apart. I hope she continues to narrate her books going forward as she has a great gift for it.

Writer’s Takeaway: It was clear to me that Jacob had some personal knowledge of being Indian in America. The story was reminiscent to me of a Jhumpa Lahiri novel and I thought the immigrant story was well done. This is a great example of ‘write what you know’ and it really shone for me.

This was a great read and I’m glad I finally got around to it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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3 Responses to “Book Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob (4/5)”

  1. Alyssa May 21, 2019 at 11:45 AM #

    This sounds incredible, and I haven’t heard of it until now, so I’m glad you shared. 🙂 Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite authors, so I’d love to write a similar story by a different author to see how I’d like it. Great review!

    Like

    • Sam May 21, 2019 at 12:27 PM #

      Thanks! Their styles are very different, but the story and cultural conflicts are the same. Happy reading!

      Like

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  1. Challenge Update, May 2019 | Taking on a World of Words - June 3, 2019

    […] Harbor // S.E. Hinton (2/5) The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing // Mira Jacob (4/5) Exit West // Mohsin Hamid (4/5) Survival in Auschwitz // Primo Levi (4/5) Born […]

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